Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 2)

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager of the SFA Network

Today (Nov 7th, 2019) was the second opportunity for the emerging designers to engage with the experts in Sustainable Development & the Global South. For more information about the project itself, please read this post.
The students presented the concept scenario they had developed as a team, as well as their individual direction which is a specific aspect of the future world they have created. These individual parts will lead to the design of distinct, imaginative and interrelated products, services and experiences. While designing, the students must keep in mind who they are designing for – future workers/future citizens – with consideration for how Sustainable Development work might evolve to enable/afford/alter the dynamics of people, process and practice in the Global South.

As most of them have never travelled to a destination in the Global South, they largely rely on the experts’ lived-experiences to grasp the reality of those living in developing countries. I was pleased to realise that as the emerging designers broaden their research and interact/interview the experts, they also start integrating what working across difference means, that there is more than often no “right” or “wrong”, “bad” or “good”, “them” and “us”, which are too easy and simplistic labels used to describe the disparity between the North and the South. I notice that they all felt more comfortable exploring the grey zone between both worlds where ideas and concepts can emerge, instead of stagnating in a criticism loop. While they learn from our experience, we also greatly learn from their creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness which are skills that requires time and exposure to develop but which seem to be well built-in and natural for this group.


Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day1)

By Vanessa Duclos, lead Research Administrator of the SFA Network
David Gerow, SFA Intern and PhD student

This fall, the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network is collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Innovation School. Over the semester, the 4th year product design students will work on a project on the theme of “Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & the Global South”. During this 8-week project, the cohort will investigate future forms and functions of sustainable development work in relation to the Global South, ultimately developing a future scenario and designing the artefacts, services and experiences associated with it 10 years from now.

Today, contemporary product design is not only an industrial or production-focused occupation; rather, it is becoming an epistemological practice, which explores the future, generates new knowledge and formulates hypotheses about how people may live or work in the years to come. Whether they are designing an artefact, service or experience, it is fundamental for a designer to know how to understand what drives people, what their needs are and why.

Dr Mia Perry worked with Dr Kirsty Ross, lecturer at the GSA and final year coordinator, to build the structure of this project. Over the last couple of weeks, the students split into seven groups worked together to conduct research in the domains of Health, Energy, Mobility, Economies, Education, Societal Structures and Environment. Each of these domains was examined through various lenses: Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Educational, Values, Political, Legal and Ecological. Then, based on this research, the students mapped societal shifts and identified emerging themes or scenarios.

This morning, the students shared their initial future scenarios with “the experts”: academics and professionals working within the field of sustainable development in the Global South, and members of the SFA Network. By sharing their work, the students had the opportunity to validate certain aspects of their research, as well as the chance to ask technical questions and benefit from the experts’ real-world experiences to further shape their scenarios/designs. The team of experts will meet with the cohort of emerging designers throughout the duration of the project, which will culminate later this year in an exhibition of the designed future artefacts, services and experiences.

I was happy to be in the expert cohort, along with my University of Glasgow colleagues: Stewart Paul, Anthony Kadoma, Prof Jude Robinson, Dr Raihana Ferdous, Dr Neil Burnside, Prof James Conroy, and SFA Network partners Prof Sola Ajayi (First-Tech University, Ibadan), Andrew Vincent (Classrooms for Malawi and Nu Blvck), Diarmuid O’Neill (DFID), Prof Jo Sharp (University of St Andrews) and Dr Christian Micha Ehret (McGill University).

The initial research presented by the student groups was impressive both for its accuracy and for how it pin-pointed challenges related to sustainable development work. The students were genuinely interested in learning more about lived experiences and described how being exposed to this topic – and to the SFA Network by extension – had changed their perspectives on their roles as designers (progressing towards a more participatory approach with clients). I am certain that the expert team is also looking forward to the next experts input day, November 7th. It was a refreshing, inspiring, positive and thought-provoking experience for all, and a promising start to a successful collaboration.


Learning for Sustainability: University-Community Nexus

By Anthony Kadoma, Research Administrator of the Ugandan hub; Reagan Kandole, ECOaction; and David Gerow

On 13 April, 2019, members of SFA’s Uganda hub jointed staff and students from Makerere University’s Department of Adult and Community Education for an environmental education field study tour. Two lecturers and 90 students participated along with SFA members Joseph Watuleke, Kevin Aanyu, Kellen Aganyira, Richard Kagolobya and Anthony Kadoma. The idea of the hub members collaborating with the university staff grew out of a monthly meeting held on 19 March.

The team visited three different but related innovation sites: ECOaction, an SFA partner in Uganda; United Innovations Development Centre (UIDC), a leading innovation and waste incubation centre in Kireka, a suburb of Kampala; and finally, Sezibwa, an eco-tourism site in the district of Mukono, Central Uganda.

The field study was guided by, but not limited to the following objectives:

  • To learn and appreciate innovative ways of turning waste into a resource;
  • To understand the ecotourism activities promoted at Sezibwa conservation area;
  • To explore the relationship between innovative conservation projects and their adjacent communities;
  • To generate ways of achieving environmental, economic and social sustainability in the areas visited;
  • To identify opportunities for recruiting new members to the SFA network

During this field study, observations were made by the SFA members, and interviews were conducted with key organization staff to learn more about what they did and the impact of their activities on the environment and on neighboring communities. Data was collected by taking photographs and short video recordings, especially during presentations. At the end of the tour, all 90 students filled out evaluation forms and handed them to the SFA team. This data will be analysed and will inform future actions and relationships with the visited organizations.

SFA believes in and promotes a multidisciplinary approach, and this field study offered the team a range of options on how to interact with different community members in various settings. Of interest was the presence of cultural healing sites at Sezibwa, where patients from different parts of the region came for prayers and healing. The waste incubation centre offered insights on how agricultural waste could be used to produce eco-friendly products such as briquettes, paper bags and envelopes. Beyond their environmental benefits, these innovations created employment for the youth and the neighboring communities, thus contributing to poverty reduction. The idea of exposing students to local environmental concerns when they are about to graduate university is important because it not only prepares them to become ambassadors of sustainable development in their respective communities, but it also challenges them to think critically and practice more sustainable and innovative ways of dealing with environmental waste.

For instance, in his address to the team, ECOaction’s founder, Mr. Kandole Reagan, painted a mind-opening, artistic picture, likening irresponsibly dumped plastics to “vomit” from excessive intake. This is a spot-on description: “vomit” consists only of what has been consumed! Who on earth ever liked their own vomit, let alone somebody else’s, except perhaps a dog? Logically speaking, why should we let the environment choke on our vomit?

At both ECOaction and at United Innovations Development Centre, an economic perspective was encouraged; the emphasis was on looking beyond waste. The economic value that lies in or beyond environmental waste can create an intrinsic motivation for preserving and conserving the physical environment while reducing poverty and unemployment through reusing, recycling and upcycling waste for economic benefits. What these organizations offer are innovative methods of environmental sustainability. Meanwhile, Sezibwa Eco-Tourism focuses more on conserving the natural green environment and cultural practices that ensure responsible use of natural resources such as tree spices, rocks, birds and water bodies, among other things. The students, lecturers and SFA members benefitted from visiting each of these sites, which demonstrate practical, innovative methods of sustainability.


Dr Mia Perry | TedX Interview

Dr Mia Perry, SFA Co-Director, is interviewed at  TedX Glasgow about the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.

At TedX Glasgow the SFA Network brought a snapshot of its work to the event; this includes a public poll which questioned the approach that we take on research sustainability, engaging with the binary choice of ‘Giving v.s. changing your own practice?’ In this interview, Mia discusses the SFA’s work on collaboration across knowledge systems, exemplifying our work as ‘a community member working with an academic’. As SFA is a network focusing on ‘methodologies’, Mia shares how it is important to be able to share what that means in ‘real life terms’ which is at the heart of TedX – world changing ideas made accessible; she described the event as giving her a sense of ‘enthusiasm, motivation, passion and integrity’.

“More and more we realize that if we made good decisions about sustainability here in Glasgow, our colleagues in Africa would have half as many problems to deal with.”